The MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot manufactured by Novatel wireless is a workhorse device, with the most tried-and-true user base and cumulative usage of any mobile hotspot ever released. A pioneer when it was introduced in 2009, the MiFi revolutionized the concept of what an "all-in-one", compact and easy to use mobile router could be.
With the dawn of the newest 4G mobile hotspots, the major wireless providers are generally more focused on signing up contract customers to these new hotspots. This does not leave the 3G MiFi 2200 out in the cold, but rather allows the companies with the most experience and customer service with prepaid and pay-as-you-go data plans to administer the MiFi 3G and other third-generation mobile hotspots. Contrary to the marketing message Verizon and AT&T may be putting forth, 3G Mobile Hotspots still serve a large group of potential customers with contract-free, lower cost options.
Virgin Mobile has become synonymous with high-quality, reasonably priced smartphones that are available without any contract commitment. Since the beginning of 2010, Virgin has gone full force into a similar array of mobile broadband products and services at rock-bottom prices. Virgin has become the premier source of for name-brand, reasonably priced mobile broadband products and subscription plans, all without any long term commitment. Virgin Mobile a uses the Sprint wireless 3G mobile network for their MiFi mobile hotspot, so you can rest assured that the infrastructure and backbone of Virgins mobile broadband plans are in the same class as top-tier wireless providers.
About the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200
The MiFi 2200 intelligent mobile hotspot allows up to five separate users or devices to connect to the device, effectively enabling one single data plan to be shared by the family, group, or just several of your own additional Wi-Fi enabled devices. The Virgin hotspot enables Wi-Fi compatible devices within a 30 to 40 foot radius to connect to the internet securely using WEP or WPA2 security encryption, the same safe and secure method used in your home Wi-Fi network.
Setup and configuration of the MiFi 2200 is not too hard, but some novice users may strumble a bit on the instructions, which are not all that great. Enter the default password indicated on the sticker that is supplied from the factory and you'll be able to initially connect to the administrative control panel which is accessible through your web browser by navigating to 192.168.1.1 - the web-based control panel allows access to the MiFi's main settings and parameters. Here you can set the SSID name, which is the name of the broadcast Wi-Fi network, change the Wi-Fi or administrative password, and set the methods of encryption. The device status can also be viewed, which indicates the current network connection, name of connected clients
Speed and Performance Testing for the Virgin Mobile MiFi
Download and Upload speed testing for the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 was done in and around Metro New York City. Speed tests were measured using the speedtest.net web-based performance tool.
Test #1 Weekday, 5:40PM, Midtown Manhattan
Download: 333 Kbps Upload: 130 Kbps Network Ping: 173 ms. (worst result)
Download: 710 Kbps Upload: 563 Kbps Network Ping: 93 ms. (best result)
Test #2: Weekend, Suburban Long Island
Download: 499 Kbps Upload: 266 Kbps Network Ping: 111 ms. (worst result)
Download: 807 Kbps Upload: 599 Kbps Network Ping: 99 ms. (best result)
Our take-away from the SpeedTest results were moderately disappointing. The speed assessment test was performed over 15 times, at different times of day, as well is different days of the week. In no case could read achieved over 900 Kbps download speeds. While these recorded speeds are not terrible by any means, we wished there was little bit more transparency in terms of how the Sprint network is utilized.
But then again, we might be a little biased, as we had just come off doing some testing for the Verizon 4G network, which was reporting speeds literally 10 times faster then the Virgin mobile results. Truth is, the speeds are not all that bad, especially given the very low cost of the Virgin monthly data service, as well as the fact that the results we experienced are only slightly below the download and upload rates of many other wireless providers 3G networks around New York, one of the worst areas in the country for 3G network saturation, and overall sluggishness.
Hardware "Issues" Experienced (?)
While using the version mobile hotspot over the course of three weeks, and subscribing to the $20/500 MB monthly plan, we experienced two notable issues that affected our usability on multiple occasions.
First was an issue of seemingly random "freeze ups" and times that the hotspot would become non responsive to the web pages. The Wi-Fi communication to the connected device, in our case a laptop PC connected over Wi-Fi G, was constant and reported no breaks in communication. It seemed the cellular radio had intermittent problems communicating with the Sprint cell towers, in particular when we were in areas that seemed to have a lot of network congestion.
The only way to (temporarily) rectify the random lockups on the Virgin hotspot was to do a hard reset with the power button. Calls to the Virgins Tech Support were met with the assurance that the problem was not with the hotspot at all, but rather with the over-saturated local trunk of the Sprint 3G network we were connecting to. Ultimately, no answer could be given as to why the MiFi device needed to be reset in order to get it to work again.
The second hardware issue we noted was also somewhat random: The battery would become unusually hot and we would notice a significant reduction in the amount in-use battery power per charge cycle we would get out of the mobile hotspot. Typically, we could pull 3 to 3 1/2 hours of use per charge, but at seemingly random times which seem to occur when the battery overheating took place, the duration of the battery dropped to about two hours. Several repeated calls two Virgin's service and support failed to get to the bottom of this issue. Researching this reported condition online seemed to confirm that the Virgin mobile MiFi did indeed have an issue with shorter-than-expected battery life due to intermittent (over) heat production. We read several forum posts that seems to confirm that the problem could be fixed with a firmware update, but we never were able to definitively prove or confirm this fact on our own.
Data Plan Terms and Rates for the Virgin Mobile MiFi Hotspot
Virgin mobile currently offers a fairly simple selection of data plans for their MiFi 2200 mobile hotspot. They have the lowest priced data plans for a mobile hotspot we have ever seen. The low priced plans are quite limited in their data allowances, but nonetheless, the prospect of such low rate is promising, especially since no contract commitment is needed.
On the low-end side, they have a "limited-use" plan that allows up to 100 MB of downloads/uploads within a window of 10 days for only $10. This plan while obviously short on usefulness due to its 100 MB cap, it is nonetheless an interesting choice for those who just need short-term use of hotspot connectivity for lightweight web activity. This might entail e-mail retrieval and basic web browsing on a business trip, or perhaps the ability to take orders at a trade show or convention.
For regular monthly plans that offer a fixed amount of bandwidth per month, Virgin offers two varieties:
For $20 per month, users get 500 MB of bandwidth and $50 per month they get 2.5 GB of bandwidth . All data with the plan limits is delivered by Sprint's 3G network. As an interesting "bonus" of the $50 per month plan, Virgin added benefit of having "unlimited" use over and above the 2.5 GB threshold, but at a much reduced, 2G data speed limit (about 75 Kbps download), which is about 10 times slower than 3G. Although it's pretty discouraging to have the prospects of 2G speed, at least it's connectivity nonetheless that may come in handy when the hotspot would have otherwise been simply disconnected due to surpassing its monthly limit. Believe it or not, 2G Speed is fine for general web browsing, like Twitter, e-Mail and Facebook updates...it's horrible for file downloading or streaming music and video.
Summary of Benefits of the Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200:
- No contract or long-term commitment required. Pay month to month, cancel any time without penalty
- Relatively low up front price of less than $150 for the Virgin MiFi hotspot device
- Several low-cost data plans suitable for light weight users ranging between $10 and $20 per month, the lowest of any wireless provider we have seen.
- The MiFi 2200 hotspot device is manufactured by Novatel wireless, a leading manufacturer with the most experience in mobile hotspots. Based on the most popular hotspot of all time.
- The MiFi is easy to use, setup and administer; Simple control, user friendly control panel.
- The $50 per month plan allows unlimited (slower) 2G data connections above and beyond the 2.5GB data limit of the 3G network at no additional cost. (hmmm...not so sure we should say this is an "advantage"?)
- Unresolved, frustrating hardware glitches; required to be device reset periodically
- We experienced poorly managed customer service within Virgin Mobile; confusing self-help options, and overall lack of technical expertise by the call center agents.
- Difficult to keep a running tab on the current monthly bandwidth usage; making allocating and planning bandwidth use over the entire month difficult.
- Consistently lower than expected download and upload speeds, especially when compared to other hotspots that use the Sprint 3G network (as does the Virgin MiFi)
- The $50/2.5GB monthly plan for the Virgin MiFi is not exactly "cheap" when compared to typical 4G data plans, such as the popular Verizon 4G LTE for $50/5GB per month.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
The Virgin Mobile MiFi is a respectable choice for individuals and businesses that need light-to-medium amounts of internet over broadband 3G, and can live with the somewhat underachieving speeds of the Sprint based 3G wireless data delivery. The Virgin Mobile MiFi hotspot offers a good value as an entry point into the world of wireless broadband and mobile hotspots.
There is some hesitation on the part of mobilehotspot.com to recommend this mobile hotspot to our readers in light of the unexplained connection glitches we experienced , but all-in-all, the net positive benefits of this relatively inexpensive portable hotspot, coupled with the moderately priced data plans, make the Virgin MiFi 2200 a good choice for those not ready or otherwise unable to commit to a long term contact with the "Big 4" nationwide wireless providers, especially with their often confusing and sporadic 4G data offerings.
Users who have even just a minor degree of technical savvy will likely fare pretty well in troubleshooting and resolving typical difficulties, such as those that we encountered. TOTAL non-techies on the other hand may not be so lucky - they will likely fell like a lost sheep when trying to get technical assistance from Virgin's poor support.
Don't expect bells and whistles from the Virgin Mobile Hotspot, be happy enough it can serve up just the basics - halfway decent download speed with dense coverage across most of the United States.
The Virgin MiFi and it's $20 per month plan that allows 500 MB is actually pretty well suited for a surprising percentage of users in our opinion, such as (Wi-Fi version) iPad owners who would like to get online for Facebook, shopping and the reading news, as well as the millions of eBook readers that do not have build in 3G, and can benefit from the ease at which new books and content can be browsed and purchased if they had an inexpensive mobile broadband connection - we feed the Virgin MiFi can answer this need.